I’m sorry, but I am going to have to hike up my crotchity old man pants and whip my suspenders; it’s time to do a little ranting about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).
Recently, outgoing President Sid Ganis announced that next years Oscar ceremony will feature 10 Best Picture nominations instead of 5. This unprecedented (at least in 60 years) announcement was followed by a few lesser publicized changes. The rules for Best Original Song are now such that there may not even be an award every year and supplemental awards, such as the Thalberg or the Honorary Oscar, will be distributed at a separate event. It is great to see AMPAS blow the dust off of the arcane rule book they have been following for nearly a century, but other changes are needed. Like what, you may ask? Good thing you came to the candler blog.
Axe the Best Animated Feature Category, and Fast
Part of the thinking behind expanding the Best Pic pool is to give films that rarely make it into the running a fighting chance. Comedies, summer blockbusters and animated features are rarely nominated, but only one of those genres has been pushed out of the running completely. Instituted in 2001, with the first award going to Shrek, the Best Animated Feature award was meant to get gold into the hands of animated filmmakers whose work accounts for an incredible amount of box office grosses yet is rarely honored at the annual ceremony. Instead, it has pigeonholed all animated films into one giant lump that is out of the running of the Academy’s top honor.
Over the last decade, Hollywood and audiences have taken note of animation auteurs. So many people are required to make an animated film, the makers often get lost in the shuffle. However, Brad Bird has now become a marketable name, as have Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter. (These are all Pixar guys, I know, but hey, they’re the major studio) As films become more closely linked to specific names, they start to feel more like works of art rather than DVDs to keep the kids happy in the back seat. **With a bigger Best Pic pool, there is no longer a need to push animators into a corner with this useless, offensive award. **
Fix the Foreign Language Film
Over the years the essence of the Foreign Language film seems to have been lost. Given out officially since 1956, the award is meant to showcase films that do not open in the U.S. during their initial run, thus bringing greater attention to world cinema. The film must play in theaters overseas and be in a language other than English. Fair enough, but technology keeps making the world smaller, so we run into snags along the way.
Each nation must select an official film which AMPAS then whittles down to 5 nominees. There are obvious political issues that erupt in each country which the Academy can neither control nor anticipate, but there are rules that could be changed to allow more films into the fold.For films to be eligible they must be primarily in the language of the country of origin. In 2008, Beaufort was Israel’s official selection, though a controversy brewed over another favorite from that country, Bikur Ha-Tizmoret (The Band’s Visit), which is in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Rumors swirled that Beaufort’s producers brought to the selection committee’s attention the exact length of spoken English in The Band’s Visit, which happened to be too long for eligibility, thus securing a spot for the nod. The latter film, which was critically well-received the world over, should have been eligible regardless. Though the outdated rules AMPAS has set up forbid it, culturally speaking it is a film that should have every right to compete on behalf of its nation.
Also, for some unknown reason, a film can be nominated both for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture like Roberto Benigni’s La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful) was in 1998. This is particularly vexing considering the fact that if, say, a documentary film wants to try for the top award, the producers must pull it from the Best Documentary running. Why is it that this award can have it both ways yet other categories must make some tough choices? I think it’s pretty clear that the rules in general need to be revamped from the ground up.
Eliminate Redundant Nominees
It is an incredible honor for anyone to be nominated for an Oscar, so to be nominated twice in the same category would be an even greater honor, right? Well, if you ask Steven Soderbergh, who won Best Director for Traffic in 2001 while he was also nominated for Erin Brockovich, yes, it is pretty great. But ask Roger Deakins, a cinematographer who has racked up an incredible 8 nominations in his career, two for Best Cinematography in 2008 (No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and you might get a different answer. Mr. Deakins has never taken home gold, and in 2008 the theory is that he outdid himself. If voters who would support his work wanted to vote for him, they split their vote in two different places making it actually that much more difficult for him to win.
That same year, songwriters Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz racked up 3 nominations for songs they wrote for Disney’s Enchanted. There was only one other film with a song in the running, (August Rush) Once, and it went home the victor. Again, the vote was probably split between all three of the artists’ songs.
Now, I realize that the actual quality of a given piece plays a huge part in the actual choice of an actual winner. Still, nominees should compete against each other, not themselves.
Ed Note: Fixes made based on Jonathan J’s comment below. Very sorry some facts were off for this article.